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  • Tone and Accent in Oklahoma Cherokee by Hiroto Uchihara
  • Matthew K. Gordon
Tone and Accent in Oklahoma Cherokee. Hiroto Uchihara. Oxford Studies of Endangered Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xviii + 302. $105.00 (cloth).

Book-length case studies of prosody in individual language are relatively rare. Even sparser are comprehensive treatments of prosody in American Indian languages of the type found in Hiroto Uchihara’s penetrating account of the fascinatingly complex tone and accentual system found in the Oklahoma variety of Cherokee, the lone member of the Southern Iroquoian branch of Iroquoian. Cherokee prosody has long been the subject of intense interest both among scholars of Iroquoian (and more broadly American Indian languages) and among phonologists and phoneticians due to its intricate tone system, which stands as an outlier in an Iroquoian language family characterized primarily by accentual (or stress) systems rather than tone. Uchihara’s study thus provides the perfect complement to the existing literature on the prosodic structure of the larger Northern Iroquoian branch, most thoroughly explicated in Karin Michelson’s (1988) definitive treatise.

Drawing on a combination of published material, recordings made by other scholars and his own fieldwork on the language, Uchihara’s book provides a thorough account of all aspects of word-level prosody in Oklahoma Cherokee, considerably outstripping in coverage and depth the abundant but far less comprehensive literature on Cherokee prosody. Uchihara does a masterful job both of contextualizing his analysis relative to previous work and of providing enough background on the phonology and morphology of the language for the reader to appreciate the salient role of both systems in shaping the complex tonal phenomena operative in Cherokee.

The first three chapters of the book introduce Cherokee segmental phonology, syllable structure, and morphology, providing an essential backdrop for the coverage of tone and accent in the remaining eight chapters. A virtue of the introductory chapter is their substantial attention to the various orthographic and transcription systems found in the literature, which are quite divergent, particularly in the sphere of tonal representations.

A notable feature of the book is its use of the Cherokee data to address several broader theoretical issues, including the representation of syllable weight, the characterization of tonal processes, and metrical stress theory. The final chapter provides an excellent discussion of the position of Cherokee tone and accent within the typology of prosodic systems. Cherokee is an informative case study in the ongoing debate about prosodic taxonomy, since it not only possesses lexical tone but also provides compelling evidence for the role of metrical structure in predicting certain distributional facts about tone. These include the domain of rightward high tone spreading from pre-pronominal prefixes, which Uchihara attributes to morphologically projected iambic foot structure, and the positioning of the superhigh tone, analyzed by the author as the reflex of a left-headed (i.e., trochaic) quantity-sensitive unbounded foot. On the other hand, the metrical system of Cherokee is not a canonical one since there are certain morphosyntactically-governed classes of words that lack evidence for metrical structure, in violation of the generally established view that all (content) words in an accentual language have a primary stress (Hyman 2006). [End Page 343]

As Uchihara compellingly demonstrates, Cherokee tone and accent are relevant to a number of topical issues in phonological theory and typology. The pervasive sensitivity of Cherokee prosodic structure to morphosyntax may well be unique among languages of the world, challenging commonly held conceptions about the typology of the morphosyntax-prosody interface. The proposed analysis of the floating high tone attributed to prepronominal prefixes appeals to a type of chained left-edge extrametricality that is virtually unattested (but see Buckley [1994] on Kashaya Pomo) and excluded in most versions of metrical stress theory (e.g., Hayes 1995). The dichotomous behavior of glottal stop in conditioning both the lowfall (i.e., low falling) tone and high tone encapsulates within a single language the potential for glottal stop to produce either high tone or low tone reflexes (or no tonal reflexes) on a language-specific basis, as observed in Northern Athabaskan languages (Krauss 2005; Kingston 2005). The development of a robust tone system in Cherokee, which...


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